Tuesday, 21st February, 2012 § 4 Comments
I received this manuscript last week when its author, Victor Lee, emailed me asking if I could read and review his soon to be published book in my blog. That’s one nice thing about a book blog. Occasionally you get to read books (or a manuscript in this case) for free and say some nice things about it.
Unfortunately, Notes To My Older Self: A Young Man Questions The Values Of His Misguided Generation just did not do anything for me.
As one may have guessed from the title, it’s one of those self-help, how-to-live-a-better-life books that always crowd the shelves at the book retailers. This one however, opens with a caveat: “This is a highly opinionated book. Seek your own truth.” Now that just seems wrong to me. If you want people to sit up and pay attention to what you wrote, telling them to seek their own truth may not be the wisest advice to write. If right off the bat the author tells the reader that the contents in this book are just his opinions and they may not work for the reader, then it’s chutzpah of the highest order to ask them to pay him money for the privilege of reading his book.
My enthusiasm fell after reading that opening line.
Perhaps my bias already set in after that first line but the rest of the book wasn’t any better. The problem with it is that there is simply nothing new here. Victor Lee tut-tuts at the folly of youth and their obsession with conformity, keeping up with their peers, staying obedient and basically not rocking the boat in their pursuit of material happiness. He advises practising our individuality, learn to give instead of take, be free of the shackles of what others expect of us. Feed our spiritual needs rather than our material ones. Only then, Lee believes, can we truly be happy.
I admit that is some good advice there but it took him over 230 pages to get the message across? The same message that has been delivered by prophets, gurus and thinkers before him? The path Victor Lee shows us in this book is a well trodden one and bears no surprises.
Here’s my advice: Notes To My Older Self should be published as a series of blog posts instead of as a book. A blog is at least free to read and someone stumbling upon it won’t feel cheated of his or her money if the person finds, as I did, nothing new or interesting in Lee’s work.
Oh wait…he does have a blog called Victor Life List. Well, there you go. Should have just written his ‘notes’ there.
Wednesday, 30th November, 2011 § 10 Comments
Let’s get straight to the point: Habibi is racist because it portrays the fictional land it is set in and its people based on the Western idea of how Arabia should look like. In other words, Habibi is an Orientalist claptrap. The sad thing is, I do not think that Craig Thompson set out to deliberately pen a story with a racially skewed idea of a Middle Eastern land (sure, Wanatolia is fictional but c’mon…deserts, camel caravans, a Sultan’s harem, a Sultan, tales from the Quran…he’s not writing about Kansas, people). Perhaps in Thompsons mind, this depiction of an Arab land is the ‘right’ look for his story but he fails to realize that Middle Easterners in general and Muslims in particular find it insulting.
And then there’s the rapes. Dodola, the female protagonist, is raped throughout the book. By her husband (when she is sold to him as a child bride), by caravan riders (when she begged for food from them), by the sultan in his harem. And when she’s not being sexually oppressed, Dodola is naked for some other reason. Sleeping, bathing, she’s even naked in dreams. I’m not an uptight prude but I can’t help but wince when every other page Dodola is presented sans clothes. Oh yeah, I forgot. Thompson admitted he was influenced by the very exploitative and sensationalistic Orientalist paintings.
Buried under all this is a beautiful story about friendship, loyalty and enduring love. Dodola and Zam are two children who find themselves trying to survive on a marooned ship in the middle of a desert. They fall victim to events, they get separated and both go through trying times (he ends up as a eunuch and she…well, you know, gets raped) before they are reunited. Thompson peppers the book with tales of the Prophets from both the Islamic and Judeo-Christian versions and to his credit presents the Quran in a positive way. And the artwork is admittedly gorgeous.
But does that excuse the constant depiction of nakedness and the sexual oppression of women? Ultimately, Habibi is a gorgeous but shallow graphic novel.
Cahaya-Cahaya Wuduk (Al Hidayah Publishers, 2011): I Was SO Disappointed With This Book That I’m Not Going To Translate My Original Review Into English
Wednesday, 7th September, 2011 § 6 Comments
The following review first appeared in Goodreads.com and as the title of the post suggests, the author pretty much pissed me off with his confusing inconsistency. Pissed me off enough that I’m not going to bother translating my review from Malay to English. This is indeed a historical day here at the Malaysian Reader. Even when another book written in Malay pissed me off I still managed to review it in English (yeah, this book as if you didn’t know if you’ve been following this blog long enough). But if you’re still curious but not fluent in Malay the book is basically about the Islamic practise of ablution (wuduk) which all Muslims are recommended to perform in our daily lives and is in fact obligatory when we want to perform our prayers or touch the Quran. This book is very good at explaining the reasons for ablution and answering the myriad of questions involving ablution but one small inconsistency by the author almost made me want to throw this book across the room. A non-Muslim may think it an overreaction but Islam has to be practised to the letter according to the Quran and the example of the Prophet that even a small inconsistency in a book that proposes to teach Muslims on how to practise their faith correctly is enough to relegate that book to the trash can.
So here’s the review in Malay:
Apabila saya membaca buku-buku ilmiah khususnya buku-buku Islam, saya menjadi lebih kritikal berbanding apabila membaca buku-buku pop. Ini satu kewajiban setiap Muslim. Tidak boleh menerima bulat-bulat apa yang dibaca. Mesti dibandingkan dengan buku lain, pendapat lain. Wajib bertanya dengan yang arif untuk mendapat kepastian dan kefahaman. Silap faham, rosak akidah. Bak kata orang zaman sekarang, “Don’t play play“. Jangan main-main hal agama.
Karya Muhammad Muhyidin ini secara ringkasnya memberi penjelasan soal wuduk dan mengapa ia penting bagi setiap manusia yang bergelar ‘Muslim’. Penjelasan diberi dengan teliti, disertai dengan ayat-ayat Quran dan juga hadis sahih. Namun, saya keliru dengan tulisan beliau bila menyentuh soal berapa kali patut anggota wuduk diusap air wuduk.
Pada awalnya, pengarang mengajak kita supaya berwuduk mengikut mazhab fiqh yang dianuti; samada Shafi’e atau Malik atau Hambal atau Hanafi mahupun Ja’fari (mazhab Syiah). Beberapa halaman kemudian (halaman 44-46 di dalam edisi ini), ustaz Muhammad menyelitkan beberapa hadis sahih yang menyentuh soal usapan air di anggota badan ketika berwuduk. Ada yang kata Nabi Muhammad s.a.w mengusap hanya sekali, ada yang kata dua kali, ada juga yang kata tiga kali. Ini semua sahih. Terpulanglah nak ikut yang mana satu.
Si ustaz ada juga memberi dua pendapat Syiah, di mana pendapat pertama mengatakan bilangan wajib mengusap anggota wuduk hanya sekali, sunat dua kali manakala pendapat kedua pula menegaskan cukup sekali sahaja, kalau buat dua kali tiada pahala dan kalau tiga kali sudah bida’ah yakni sesat!
Namun, memandangkan awal-awal lagi Ustaz Muhammad tidak menyalahkan mana-mana pendapat mazhab asalkan pengikut mazhab itu yakin dengan ajaran mazhab berikut, maka terpulanglah pembaca nak ikut mazhab mana satu.
Yang mengejutkan dan membuat saya tawar hati dengan buku ini ialah apabila di halaman 115, Ustaz Muhammad mengkritik seorang ustaz lain (yang tidak diberi nama) apabila ustaz tiada nama itu menggalakan umat Islam menyapu air wuduk tiga kali di anggota wuduk. Ustaz Muhammad dengan selambanya menulis “sebagaimana yang telah kita ketahui bersama, membasuh atau mengusap anggota wuduk diwajibkan hanya sekali, dimubahkan dua kali (‘mubah’ bermaksud tidak digalak dan tidak dialarang), dan hukumnya bidaah jika dilakukan tiga kali.“
Aik?! Di bahagian awal si ustaz kata terpulanglah nak ikut mazhab mana (termasuk yang Syiah) kerana semua mazhab yang masyhur ini mengikut Quran dan Sunnah. Tetapi selepas itu si ustaz mengkritik pula pendapat yang mengatakan mengusap anggota wuduk tiga kali adalah bidaah! Tiba-tiba pula si ustaz ni ikut pendapat Syiah. Apa jadi pada “terpulanglah nak ikut mazhab mana satu asalkan yakin”?
Semua hujah-hujahnya yang lain serta merta menjadi ghaib dari pandangan saya walaupun hujah-hujahnya agak mantap. Semua kerana sifat tidak konsisten beliau ini. Seperti saya tulis di atas, dalam soal agama kita tidak boleh main-main. Tidak boleh buat silap. Buku ini telah diterjemah (tidak dijelaskan dari bahasa apa tapi saya rasa dari Bahasa Indonesia) dan juga telah disemak oleh seorang berpangkat Doktor. Jadi di mana silapnya? Si penterjemah buat silap? Atau tukang semak sebenarnya tak semak? Atau memang pengarang asal, Muhammad Muhyidin terkeliru dan mengelirukan?
Oleh kerana kekeliruan yang nampak kecil tetapi berpotensi memberi impak yang besar pada akidah umat Islam, saya tidak syorkan buku ini dibaca apatah lagi dibeli.
Monday, 18th July, 2011 § 2 Comments
Okay, so no surprises to what I thought about SJ Watson’s debut novel. Hoping to read a nail-biter with twists and turns, as the hype and the hoopla promised, I was disappointingly presented with a story that had too many coincidences, plot contrivances in order to make the story work and a denouement that made me go, “Dude, really?”
The premise is interesting enough. Christine has amnesia after apparently suffering a hit and run accident twenty years ago. She wakes up every morning not knowing who she is, who is the man sleeping next to her, whose home she is in. She remembers nothing. So the man, her husband Ben, has to introduce himself to her every morning and calm her down by showing her photos of themselves and answering her questions. Ben knows full well that when Christine goes to sleep that night, she will forget everything that has happened today and he has to do it all over again tomorrow. Unbeknownst to Ben, his wife is also in contact with a Dr. Nash who also reminds her everyday of who he is and what she has stashed in a box: a journal written by Christine recounting the events of the day to remind her the next day what she has forgotten. What cranks the dial up all the way to eleven, initially, is what she jotted down on one page, “DON’T TRUST BEN”. Why? Is Ben lying? Is Dr. Nash lying? For someone who has no memory of anything how can she trust anyone? If you have ever seen the film Memento then you will probably be familiar with the premise. Except that Memento was entertaining and this book isn’t.
It is Christine’s journal that makes up most of the book. We travel along with Christine in her voyage of discovery as she reads her journal to unearth any clues as to what happened to her and why she must not trust Ben. Or should the reader even trust Christine? She has no memories so how do we know if the contents of the journal are true?
That damn journal. It’s not that I mind it being used as a narrative device but it is written as if it is a novel. For it to ring true, it should be written like a journal, with jottings and short notes. Instead, whole conversations are recorded ad verbatim complete with detailed actions like putting sugar in coffee, taking a shower etc etc. Even near the end when Christine was in a situation where realistically she would not be able to write such lengthy prose, she was still writing in lengthy prose. This is not suspension of disbelief. This is where disbelief is fired from its position, grabs its coat and hat, walks out the door and heads for the pub to drown itself in brandy. Christine’s amnesia means the reader has to go through a lot of repetition as she reminds herself every morning of who she is. New to her, not to the reader and a convenient way for Watson to pad what is clearly a thin plot.
Clunky writing and an all too pat ending (I’m almost tempted to spoil it here but I’m not that much of a jerk) results in a boring book. The book flap indicates it has already been optioned for a film adaptation. Good luck to the author. Maybe it’ll work better on screen than on a page.
Wednesday, 9th February, 2011 § 4 Comments
Prompted to write this when a fellow bookworm complained about this book over at the Goodreads-Malaysia message boards. Watership Down sounds like a rollicking adventure story featuring rabbits. Some pesky humans plan to develop the rabbits’ home so they are forced to move across country to find a new place to live. Along the way they meet danger, some more rabbits and some more danger. I never finished it because it failed my 50-page rule. I gave it a chance and extended it to a 100-page rule and it still failed to engage me so I stopped.
What am I missing? This book is one of those rare books where the kudos far outnumber the jeers which was why I picked it up. Y’know, just to see what they were talking about. Was it too English? I enjoy reading about England/Britain/the British etc etc. I’m a bit of an Anglophile so there shouldn’t be problems there. Too kiddie-centric? This book may feature talking animals but it’s not written specifically for children and besides I blasted through the Harry Potter series of books which were written for kids. Rabbit hater? No, I’m not. I like them enough not to eat their flesh. That’s how principled I am, boyo!
I am just one of those rare breed of people who should have no problems with Watership Down but do. I find it amazingly boring. If this makes me dead to you, then it looks like we won’t be exchanging cards at whatever holidays you celebrate. Oh well.
(The title reminds me of Gray Lady Down, but that’s neither here nor there)
Sunday, 23rd January, 2011 Comments Off
…because none of his comic fantasy novels are up too par when compared to The Wall Orchard or Alexander At World’s End. The former charts the life Eupolis, a comic dramatist in ancient Greece, who was one of the survivors of the disastrous Peloponnesian War. It is an excellent look at the life and politics of fifth century B.C.E Greece, all written in a tongue in cheek way. The latter book tells the story of Alexander the Great from the eyes of Euxenus, a commoner (and also the grandson of Eupolis from ‘The Wall Orchard’) who somehow manages to wiggle his way into being one of the young Alexander’s tutors when he convinces Alexander’s father, Philip, that he has the ‘demon’ of Socrates trapped in a jar. Alexander was so taken with his tutors that he went off and conquered the known world by the time he was thirty-three. Congratulate/blame Euxenus for that.
There are three other historical fiction Tom Holt wrote; one is about the possible origin of the Olympics, another about Emperor Nero who, in Holt’s story, was not assassinated but managed to escape and seek a life as a musician and a third is about how the Vikings discovered the Americas. All great fictional works based on ancient history and I think Tom Holt should write more of these instead of the sci-fi/fantasy humour novels that he is more famous for. I’ve read some of them and none of them struck my fancy. Ye Gods, Expecting Someone Taller, Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? Meh. Meh. Meh. It would be unfair to compare him to Terry Pratchett but it is inevitable. While Pterry polished his writing after the mediocre first two books, Holt’s fantasy novels just kept on with the forced humour and lack of characterisation.
Take his latest book, Blonde Bombshell. I picked it up because it’s been a while since I read anything by Tom Holt so I thought what the heck. Wish I hadn’t. In this book, Ostar, a planet where dogs are the dominant species is being bombarded by music from Earth and it’s turning the Ostar dogs bonkers. So they send a smart bomb to to wipe out Earth. When nothing happened, they send a second smart bomb. Hilarity supposedly ensues. I like crazy books with out-there plots (I enjoyed The Illuminatus, believe it or not) but BB didn’t do anything for me at all. Maybe it’s me. Or maybe it’s Mr. Holt. I’m guessing it’s him.
Go back and write more historical fiction, Tom. Leave fantasy humour to Pratchett and Rankin.
Thursday, 9th December, 2010 § 5 Comments
(This entry originally appeared as a thread topic I started in Goodreads-Malaysia’s message board last year. I present it here again for the five people who follow this blog with some very minor edits. It’s not plagiarism when it’s your own work you are copying and pasting)
You know the ones I mean, books that today have been considered by some people as classics but by me as utter tripe. I hate them because they bored me to tears, I hate them because they made me consider going bungee jumping without the bungee, but somehow these books are praised by a lot of people as masterpieces. Did these people even read the damn books?? What are these infernal titles that I hate with the heat of a thousand suns? They are:
Moby Dick – Did you know that when this book was first published, it was a commercial failure? I’m not surprised. Plodding narrative about an obsessed sea dog seeking revenge on a whale with a pigmentation deficiency. It should be a cracker of a book but it isn’t. “Call me Ishmael.” No, I won’t. Instead I’ll call you a waste of time.
Anna Karenina – Or anything by Tolstoy, really. Tolstoy is literary cancer. I call him that based entirely on one reason: Anna Karenina. Why do people enjoy this turgid, over-long soap-opera? I am shocked by the praise this gets from other, better novelists. Why is it that Dostoevsky praised this work? Dostoevsky, who undoubtly wrote shopping lists more enjoyable than Anna Karenina? I would rather teach Rosmah Mansur how to tango than subject myself to this book again. It is so dry and so boring that the justification for its praise is beyond me. Here, let me spoil it for you: Anna commits suicide by jumping under a train. Yay!
Anything by Charles Dickens except ‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ – When Chucky D. wrote his stuff, they were serialised weekly (or was it monthly?) in a magazine, chapter by chapter. The man wasn’t a novelist. He was a serial writer. He got paid by the word and it shows. He needed to make his thinly plotted stories stretch for as long as possible because once the story ended, he wasn’t getting paid by the magazine anymore. That’s why most of his stories feel like they were unnecessarily padded by subplots and segues. Because they were! He was a short story writer who needed to write longer stories to feed his family.
I exclude A Christmas Carol from my hate because the Muppets did a version of it. If the Muppets approve of it I can’t really disagree, can I?
Les Miserables – Or anything by Victor Hugo (see Tolstoy above). Hugo must have had writer’s diarrhea. It’s a condition that makes you use 100 words to describe something that can be describe in 10 words. Hugo goes off on a complete tangent a few times in the book including one where he gives an account of the Battle of Waterloo!
Here’s the gist of Les Miserables: Jean-Valjean who was imprisoned for 19 years for stealing bread is granted parole. But since he’s an ex-con society refuses to give him a break, forcing him to steal again. He breaks parole, changes his identity, becomes rich, adopts an orphan girl as his ward, man the barricades during a disastrous uprising, runs around the sewers with a wounded man on his back while trying to escape the Police Chief who has been hunting him since he broke parole, marries the wounded man to his ward, tells them his life story, dies.
You want to enjoy Les Mis? Go watch the musical instead. You’ll thank me later.
Count of Monte Cristo should have been a joy to read, and especially relevant to Malaysians: an innocent man falsely accused by his friends because of their jealousy and persecuted by a corrupt judge, he escapes prison after 20 years and seeks revenge? Heck, yeah! But Dumas’ writer’s diarrhea (yes, he has it as well) makes reading it a chore.
Catcher In The Rye – a dumb punk suburban kid with no real problems whines for several hundred pages about his non-problems, goes to a prostitute, gets hit on by a drunk, watches his sister on a merry-go-round and therefore ends up in a mental institution. HUH?
I hated Holden, I hated his whiney attitude, I hated his complete lack of anything remotely resembling actual problems and the over-the-top angsty whining about them. I kept wanting to reach into the book and say “Grow up, you idiot–go read Ellison’s Invisible Man if you want to talk about how tough life is.”
God in Heaven knows how much I hate that book.
There are a few more but I think I’ll stop here. Writing this list has made me remember those books again and is making my blood pressure rise.
Oh, before I forget: I will never include the works of Shakespeare in this list because he wrote plays that were meant to be performed and watched. Not read. The man did not write novels. You are not supposed to read Shakespeare. At least not until after you’ve seen them performed on stage or film.
Monday, 8th November, 2010 § 5 Comments
I bought these quite a while ago from Borders@Tropicana, Petaling Jaya. They had one of those “Buy 1 and get the other one cheap” kind of deals. So I picked these four because I looked around and didn’t find anything I liked (weird, I know, but I guess this particular Borders wasn’t well-stocked) and mainly because the covers caught my eye. All of them had the same ‘mysterious character who could be the protagonist has his/her back on you’ look. I just thought it was funny. Must be a trend or something.
Anyway, I’ve only read The Last Pope and it was just bad. How bad? I wished they’d hurry up and invent a time machine so I could go back and get back the hours I wasted reading this book. Or maybe back to Borders before I bought the book so I can pick up something else instead. That bad. It was so incredibly boring that I’m reluctant to read any of the other three and I don’t know if I ever will. Maybe something got lost in translation (yeah, it wasn’t originally written in English) or maybe it just simply wasn’t good. It’s a historical fiction about Pope John Paul I who served only 33 days as Pontiff in 1978. This book suggests that his death was a homicide and quickly covered up because he discovered the Vatican was involved in shady dealings. The denouement sounds intriguing but believe me, reading the story was a slog.
Now thanks to that clunker the other three won’t be getting read anytime soon. They’re there on the shelf like a trio of unwanted orphans looking for someone, anyone, to love them. Not happening yet kids. Sorry.
Thursday, 23rd September, 2010 § 42 Comments
I first knew about Muhammad Alexander (real name Wisno Sasongko) when I read his first book, Yakjuj & Makjuj: Bencana Dari Sebalik Gunung (Gog & Magog: Disaster From Beyond the Mountains). It was an interesting piece of speculative history. In Islam, Gog & Magog are the a race of people who will come near the end of time to create havoc and disaster. In fact, their appearance is one of the signs of the end of days, according to Islamic tradition.
Also according to Islamic tradition, a legendary warrior-king named Zulkarnain trapped Gog & Magog behind a dam of iron and bronze. Many have theorised who Zulkarnain really was in history (Zulkarnain wasn’t his name but his title which means, “The Two-Horned Man) . The most famous theory is that he was Alexander the Great or Alexander of Macedonia. I for one have no idea myself but Muhammad Alexander is convinced that Alexander of Macedon was Zulkarnain mentioned in the Quran. Which is why he wrote the book Alexander Adalah Zulkarnain (Alexander Was Zulkarnain). I was excited to read this book. I’ve read another book written by a Malaysian who speculated that Zulkarnain could have been Cyrus the Great. I wanted to see if Muhammad Alexander could refute this claim and convince me of his own theories.
Boy, was I disappointed.
Instead of writing an entire thesis of why I didn’t like the book, I’ll give it in point forms instead. Quick and to the point which was what Muhammad Alexander should have done:
It isn’t objective – When you call your book Alexander Was Zulkarnain, it’s pretty clear where you stand on the issue. It is difficult, then, for the reader to be presented with other contrary opinions because the author has decided that only his opinion is the correct one and everyone else’s is swept away or simply ignored.
Hearsay evidence is presented as fact and a less than professional way of presenting his arguments – Muhammad Alexander tends to ignore other previous authors on the subject whom he does not agree with simply by stating, “This author was wrong…” or “that author was confused…”
Square pegs are forced into round slots just to legitimise his argument that Alexander was Zulkarnain. For example, Muhammad suggests that Socrates the ancient Greek philosopher was actually Luqman Al-Hakim! To those who don’t know (and I’m guessing a lot of you don’t), Luqman Al-Hakim was a wise man who has an entire chapter in the Quran named after him. It has been agreed by Islamic scholars that Luqman was not a Prophet but a holy man who was rewarded with wisdom by God.
Now, Muhammad Alexander suggests in his book that Socrates was Luqman based on the fact that Socrates died by swallowing poison.
Yeah, I know. I rolled my eyes as well.
His line of argument was that no wise man or great teacher in history has ever been ordered to die by poison except Socrates. What has this got to do with Luqman? Well, Muhammad argues that in Arabic, laqman means ‘to swallow’. Therefore, a wise man whose name in Arabic means ‘to swallow’ could be (because Muhammad himself isn’t sure, he admits) Socrates the Greek philosopher because he died by swallowing poison. What’s the connection with Alexander? Well, Socrates taught Plato who taught Aristotle who taught the young Alexander. Since Muhammad is convinced Alexander the Great was Zulkarnain who believed in One God and not an idol worshiper, it would not be proper for Alexander to be taught by scholars who were idol worshipers themselves. His teacher and the teachers who taught his teacher had to believe in One God as well. Ergo, Socrates must have been the wise Luqman Al-Hakim in the Quran.
See what I mean about pushing square pegs into round slots?
I don’t know whether or not Socrates was a Muslim (anyone who believes in the unity of God is by definition of the word, a Muslim) and really, I don’t care but Muhammad’s clunky way and damn-all attitude in presenting his argument in order to fit his view that Alexander the Great was Zulkarnain in the Quran just turns me off.
Another example is when he refutes the common perception among Western historians that Alexander the Great was a homosexual. Muhammad simply sweeps all that away by stating that Alexander the Great had children and that proves he was not gay. And that was it! It is not whether Alexander was gay or not that I have a problem with but the way Muhammad challenges that allegation. He merely states that the man had children and then he (Muhammad) moved onto other things.
As someone mentioned to me recently, if I do not believe Alexander the Great was Zulkarnain of the Quran does that mean I believe that Alexander was a homosexual? Of course not! I’m just not prepared to accept Muhammad’s line of argument because his line of argument is weak and less than convincing. How can anyone be convinced when the argument is, “He was not homosexual because he had children. There, see? That proves everything.” Erm, no. No, it doesn’t.
Using the Christian Bible to strengthen his argument – Throughout his book, Muhammad uses excerpts from the Bible, usually the New Testament, to show the contradictions and mistakes in the Bible itself. As a Muslim myself I have no problems in agreeing with Muhammad in this matter. We believe that the Gospels revealed to Christ are not the Gospels that are around today. The original is gone, subverted through the ages. The Gospels today are no longer the ‘real’ ones and therefore cannot be regarded as the Word of God. Fine, no problems there.
The problem arises when Muhammad uses the same Bible to prove his case (page 19, PTS edition). Now wait a minute. If you have decided and argued that a particular source of information is unreliable, how then can you use the same source to help strengthen your case when it suits you? If you say a witness is a liar, can you then use the testimony of that same witness?
The blatant hypocrisy astounds me.
Dry prose – This book started as an academic thesis and anything academic has to be dryly written, right? It’s like a rule or something. Plus, I was reading the translated version. It was originally written in Indonesian. If something was written as dry as the Gobi desert and coupled with unconvincing arguments, the chances of me siding with the author is between slim to none.
I still don’t know who Zulkarnaian really was but you know what? Who cares? Not knowing who he was in history will not affect a Muslim’s faith either way. If I believe Alexander was Zulkarnain, fine. If I don’t, that’s fine too. If I believe Zulkarnain was someone who was not notable in known history, well, guess what? THAT’S FINE AS WELL!
But if you want to convince me of your views then please, please, please write an interesting book with very good arguments and not filled with sweeping statements and presenting flimsy evidence as fact, mmmkay?
Alexander Adalah Zulkarnain. Do not buy.
Sunday, 19th September, 2010 § 26 Comments
No, I did not forget I have a blog. It’s just that with the end of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitri falling right smack dab in the middle of the school holidays means I’ve been lazy to even switch on my computer. The last two weeks were probably my longest vacation this year so you can bet I was gonna exploit it by not doing anything constructive with my life. That’s just who I am, people!
I was supposed to read Indonesian scholar Muhammad Alexander’s new-ish book, Alexander Adalah Zulkarnain for Goodreads-Malaysia’s September Reading Book Club (yeah, I’m in a book-club. Shut up!) over the holidays, and since I was the one who ‘campaigned’ for that book to be chosen, the least I could do was to sit down and crack it open. My God, it is a snooze-fest! Only 80 pages in (out of 400+) and I began to lose interest. That’s bad news because I usually like this kind of topic: speculative theories on historical characters, Islam, ancient history, people riding on horses scaring the hell out of the natives…what’s not to like? And yet Muhammad Alexander’s attempts to convince me that Alexander the Great a.k.a Alexander of Macedonia, arguably the greatest conqueror who ever lived was the same Zulkarnain mentioned in the Quran in Surah Al-Kahfi (Chapter The Cave), has fallen flat. When you read a book with the title, Alexander WAS Zulkarnain, it’s pretty clear the author is convinced of his stand and he wants you to agree with him. But so far I can’t. Okay, I’m only 80 pages in but he has yet to convince me.
There are a few factors that are probably preventing me from agreeing. One, I grew up pretty much convinced that Zulkarnain and Alexander of Macedonia were two different people. I reached this conclusion by convincing myself that no way a man honoured in the Quran would worship idols as historians claim Alexander did. Muhammad Alexander argues in his book that this is a later fabrication and ol’ Alex worshipped God. One God. The One God.
Two, the author has no objectivity at all. His argument is, “Alexander is Zulkarnain. Accept it.” It is a well researched book from what I’ve read so far but the topic is still speculative since no one knows for sure if the two people were actually the same person and the author’s determination to shove his arguments down our throats based on the flimsiest of evidence and speculation repulses me.
Three, I don’t see what the big deal is from a Muslim point of view. Not knowing who Iskandar Zulkarnain really was in history will not affect a Muslim’s faith either way.
Muhammad Alexander also wrote an earlier book about Ya’juj & Ma’juj (Gog & Magog) which is connected to the Zulkarnain mystery because according to Islamic tradition, Zulkarnain enclosed Gog & Magog, a tribe of people capable of nothing but destruction, behind a dam. Muhammad Alexander is convinced that that dam is in Central Asia and Gog & Magog were the Scythians and their descendants are white Europeans and Americans.
I knew it!! Damn those white Europeans and Americans. Polluting the air and taking our women. We should just nuke them from orbit, just to be sure.
(By the way, a Malaysian wrote a book last year where he argued that Alexander the Great was not Zulkarnain mentioned in the Quran. I don’t remember who he determined Zulkarnain was, I don’t have the book with me, but I think he argued it was one of the Persian kings. So there’s that.)
Anyway, I dropped Alex Adalah Zul for the time being and picked up Reza Aslan’s No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam which is a much better book. The author begins with a brief history of the early days of Islam up until the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs who helped steer the Muslim community after the Prophet’s death (hint to those who don’t know: it was not smooth sailing as some Muslims would like you to think. There was intrigue, petty jealousies, civil wars between Muslims and three assasinations; two of which were carried out by Muslims against their Muslim leaders. It wasn’t all sunshine and birds chirping and people going Salam Alaykum. No. There was blood spilt. Lots of blood).
Then he goes on to discuss the history of the collected revelations which form the Quran and the problems interpreting it. The schism between the Sunni and the Shias is also touched upon with a chapter on the Sufis as well, those mystics of the Islamic world. That’s where I stopped last. Can’t wait to continue it later today.
I love it more than the Alexander book, can you tell?